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A Challenge Within a Challenge

Over the years Alan Minister and his friend Tim Styles have done a number of ‘mad’ challenges together; including cycling London to Paris in 24 hours and the Devizes to Westminster (DW) canoe race twice! This year they decided to try a challenge combining these sports resulting in their own ‘triathlon’ event - the 3LP’s. After a couple of planning sessions with their support team (their wives Sarah and Sally, plus friends Nick and Linda) a plan emerged; they were to take less than a week to:

  • Paddle the longest lakes in Wales (Bala/Llyn Tegid), England (Windermere) and Scotland (Loch Awe) – 43 miles
  • Hike up (and down) the highest peaks in Wales (Snowdon), England (Scafell Pike) and Scotland (Ben Nevis) – 24 miles;

  • Pedal the distance between them all – 510 miles.

They were also aiming to raise £2000 for the Alzheimer's Society. Here Alan tells us the story of their epic challenge:

Wales

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Starting out at Bala

We started in the rain on Friday lunchtime at Llyn Tegid, the scene of a lot of my canoe training with the legend that is Ray Goodwin. This turned out to be the only rain shower for the entire week - the weather, including the wind, was perfect for the whole time. The paddle up and down the lake took about an hour. Reaching our finish we took the boat off and got on our bikes to ride to the foot of Snowdon, a very scenic undulating ride past plenty of waterfalls.

Our plan had us doing alternate shorter and longer days, which worked well - a 6pm finish was a treat on the ‘easy’ days. Day 2 started with ticking Snowdon off, taking a fast walk up Pyg and down Miner’s track in the low cloud. About half way up we both decided that not wearing our glasses was better than peering through steamed up lenses - there was not much to see anyway! At the bottom we then jumped on the bikes and whizzed down the road through Betws-y-Coed and on to Corwen for a late lunch. Next rest was in Chester and then on over the Mersey to stay in a pub having completed 100 miles on the bikes on the way to the Lake District.

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At the top of Snowden

England

The following day was easier, with 70 miles cycling to the southern end of Windermere (including a road that became a track but fortunately only for a mile). Windermere, when we arrived, was extremely busy on a sunny Sunday afternoon. We dodged dinghies, swimmers, kayakers and yachts on our leisurely 3 hour paddle to Ambleside. Our boat, my Esquif Pocket Canyon, is the same boat we used to complete the DW (the hardest 36 hours either of us had ever endured). It’s much better on white water than paddling flat lakes! That evening we stayed at the youth hostel near Langdale, a big Victorian mansion with gorgeous woodland grounds. It was really great to have a home cooked simple pasta meal after all the pub/cafe grub.

Monday brought the hardest day - 25 moderately hilly miles on the bikes followed by up and down Scafell Pike and then 75 mile ride to Dumfries. The cycle was hard but we avoided any extreme hills and the scenery was fantastic. The hike was misty for the last third, but of the three mountains I think it was my favourite - far fewer people and we actually had to navigate a bit. Also we seemed to manage to come down all 3 mountains in the same time as we ascended them A surprise for us given we were both concerned about our knees for the descents.

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Tuesday, day 5, was an easy day with just 100 miles on the bike ending with a short ferry ride across the Clyde to Hunters Quay for the night. The cycling did vary; where we could we used national cycle routes which were scenic and quiet, however, to keep the mileage down we had to do a fair amount of A roads. Some, particularly in Scotland, were a bit hairy at times with not much room for a truck, ourselves and an oncoming coach and the little bit of road left for us heavily pot holed. No option but to enter the pot holes and (figuratively) cross our fingers.

Scotland

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Day 6 was the most logistically challenging as we had to do our hilliest ride to a ferry which only ran once an hour - we ended up catching it by the skin of our teeth, almost beaten by 20% hills, a snagged chain and a broken spoke! After a short ferry ride we had another hilly pedal to the start of Loch Awe. Upon arrival at the Loch weather was gorgeous; 25 degrees, light breeze, full sun - perfect for the canoe trip and wild camp on an island which we planned. There was a lot of faff with loading the canoe, but the hostel keeper (Tony Collins the ‘Tartan Cowboy’) was extremely welcoming and happy to tell us tales of the midges. Using our radios to stay in contact, we managed to meet up with the support crews at both suggested meeting points on the loch shore. Loch Awe was a complete contrast to the other lakes and even other lochs which Tim and I had paddled. We seemed to be the only folk on it. The castle ruins, the birds and the peace were all much appreciated, Loch Awe-some even.

Our island campsite for the night was welcome at 7pm and also unbelievably photogenic in the evening light. We decided to do a little explore of the island to see if we could find the ruins and graveyard, but the bracken was too thick so we returned defeated for dinner. Just after we had eaten dinner and drunk our one bottle of beer each, the midges came out in their clouds. Aaagh! They were everywhere. We could hear them on the tent like rain. It was so hot but we couldn’t open any of the zips on the tent and despite our best efforts there were literally hundreds of midges inside the tent (not helped by toilet trips courtesy of the beer!)

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Kilchurn Castle

We slept in our thermals to minimise the midges burning bites. They got in our eyes, ears, nose, food – everywhere. Having managed about 3 hours sleep each we rose early, ate porridge with additional midge protein and set off on to the calmest, mirror-like water imaginable. Our paddle was enhanced by the sun rising over Kilchurn castle ruins as we pulled in to a welcome from the support team. Hopping onto our bikes we took a minor diversion to their luxury accommodation for a well needed shower and change.

The final day was the only one to have all 3 disciplines and having completed the paddle of Loch Awe we got back on the bikes to ride the 70 miles to the foot of Ben Nevis for the the final push up and down the mountain. Our last cycle section went well and we set off up the last and tallest mountain in the best weather of the whole trip. We had full sun all the way up AND at the top so the views were spectacular, plus we got to walk over the last of the snow near the summit. Just as we started to come back down thunder started and we had a light rain shower, but that cleared quickly and we were quite warmed up again upon our return to base camp. That night, in our ‘luxury' caravan we discovered the last gift from ‘Hell Island’ - ticks, I had one and Tim had many more, so we spent a while removing them.

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The team

Reflections on our challenge

We reflected that the whole thing had been very enjoyable and couldn’t really have gone any better for us - also into the bargain we managed to raise over £3,000 for the Alzheimer’s Society. Despite all of the adventures Tim and I have been on together, I still find nutrition the hardest part to get right but the company and the support from Sarah and Sally, our other halves, made it great fun. Now we’re both wondering what to do next...not bad for two old guys with a combined age of 113!

One final task - pick 3 LP’s to represent the challenge:

  • No Jacket Required - Phil Collins

  • Appetite for Destruction - Guns N’ Roses

  • The Road to Hell - Chris Rea

To find out more about the British Canoeing Three Lakes Challenge and other challenge routes click here.